Finding corners of Zurich to love – The old botanical gardens

Posted on April 21, 2010


I’ve always envied those people who possess an unwavering joie de vivre, who can see the bright side of everything, the beauty in every place. Earlier this week I came across a blog by an expat who adored the very city which I found of very little interest, and I became intrigued. As I read her posts and saw her beautiful pictures of Zurich, I was allowed a glimpse into her perspective, and how she found infinite little wonders where I hadn’t bothered to look. Inspired by her writing, I decided that the next time I found myself in Zurich with a few hours to spare (I actually work there), rather than sit in my office, I would choose a spot on the city map and go explore it.

This is exactly what I do on a sunny, but coldish Tuesday afternoon. I walk out of my work building on Lowenstrasse, turn right, and immediately spot the Sihl river (which branches off from the Limmat 500 metres or so to the North). Running alongside it, I notice something which I haven’t before – a little stream, called the Schanzengraben, which can be reached by a series of steps leading a storey or so below street level. The quickness with which I get the feeling of having stepped into another world is astounding. The wooden deck I walk on makes low, comforting thuds and creaks. A few ducks chase one another, first through slow wading through water, then in brisk, animated flight. Brown fish swim gently against the current, but move so slowly that they don’t really move at all, but simply keep their place. After a few minutes of walking, I find some steps which take me back onto the street, and an entrance to the spot I want to visit – Zurich’s old botanical gardens.
It is my first time here, but I immediately find myself thinking, ‘How could I not have come here before?’ I have a lot of time, so I take a seat on a bench facing the sun and just observe. It’s a delightful place.


The lawn is dotted with lilac, white and yellow flowers. On the sloping ground behind me are groups of daffodils and the occasional tulip, bright red. A large magnolia tree in front of me is in bloom, its branches laden with spectacular soft white flowers. A myriad kind of birds sings simultaneously and the sound of traffic can hardly be heard. I soon get the impression that this is the kind of place where you just have to sit down and eat an apple or leaf through a book (I do both) and where businessmen in suits come to enjoy their lunch break.
A young man clasping a skateboard walks by, smiles and says something in Swiss-German as I am eating my apple. I struggle to reply with a mouthful of food and laugh at the same time because I can’t. He lingers at the beginning of a set of steps winding upwards to the highest level of the garden. Finally I am able to say, ‘Sorry, I don’t speak German’, to which he replies ‘I wish you a nice meal.’ I thank him and wish him a good day.
The sun is really warm and I have to remove my scarf. I continue reading Paul Theroux’s ‘Ghost Train to the Eastern Star’. An impeccably groomed man in a pink shirt and dotted pink tie is on the bench next to mine, eyes closed, palms up and a beatified smile stuck on his face. In my book I’m in the streets of Azerbaijan. Finding it not as beautiful as the garden I am in, I put the book down and just keep looking.
A man, also in a business suit (though this time of more muted colours) walks past and unexpectedly stops to touch a magnolia flower, fondling it with his fingers as if it were a woman’s hand, then sits on a bench in the middle of the lawn, closes his eyes, and just sits there, soaking up the sun. I do the same for what seems like an awfully long time.

– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @

Posted in: Zurich